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Weeping for Jerusalem

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

I’m in Jerusalem, the city every Jew should be in love with. The world has become a very small place; in the blink of an eye we can cross continents. We belong to the generation that can visit so many cities, so many villages, so many vacation sites. After a while we become immune to them all. But Jerusalem is different.

If you are a Jew, Jerusalem is in your blood. It’s a city engraved upon your heart. Centuries ago Yehuda HaLevi wrote, “My heart is in the East while I am in the West.” No matter where life has taken us, our hearts have forever remained in the East, in Jerusalem.

When I was a little girl in Hungary I may not have known where Paris or Rome was but I did know the location of Jerusalem. My parents of blessed memory, HaRav HaGoan Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, and Rebbetzin Miriam Jungreis, a”h, nurtured us with the milk and honey of Yerushalayim. Nowadays, few still thirst for that sweetness. And yet, with all the distractions of modern life, Yerushalayim tugs at our hearts.

I just saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears the veracity of this connection between the Jew and this Holy City.

I was speaking at the Great Synagogue. There was no spare seat to be had and despite the lateness of the night people kept coming. Many lingered after I finished my speech. Some sought advice and guidance. Others just wanted to talk.

Above all they asked for berachos – for shidduchim, for health, for sustenance. And then a tall, lovely, blond-haired girl stood before me. She was crying. Something prompted me to ask, “Are you Jewish?” Her voice cracking with tears, she whispered, “I’m a convert. I came to Yerushalayim to become part of the Jewish people.”

She explained that she came from a country where Jews had been beaten and tortured and maimed and killed during the Holocaust. But her soul whispered the message, “Go, join the people who stood at Sinai; go to Jerusalem!”

I naturally assumed she sought a blessing for a good shidduch. “No, no,” she protested, “that’s not why I’m here. You just related a story that entered my soul. Please bless me with the ability of not forgetting.”

And then she repeated one of the stories I had told in my address.

The story was about a mother who lost her husband and eleven of her children in Auschwitz. She made aliyah but still had no peace. She couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t work. She couldn’t come to terms with her fate.

She sought out a rebbe – perhaps he would offer her some consolation. She spilled out her heart and described each and every one of her children. The rebbe listened and wept with her. And then he said something amazing. “I think I saw someone among the newly arrived children now settled in a kibbutz who fits the description of your Dovidl.”

The rebbe told her he would try to trace the lineage of that child.

A few days later the rebbe called. “I may have some good news for you,” he said. Heart pounding, she returned to the rebbe’s home – and there was her little boy.

“Dovidl, Dovidl,” she shouted. “Mama, mama,” he sobbed as he ran into her arms. When the little boy caught his breath he asked a painful question. “Where is my father? Where are Moishele and Rochele?” As Dovidl enumerated the names of all his brothers and sisters, he and his mother cried uncontrollably. They continued to weep long into the night.

As I told that story, I remarked to the audience that it occurred to me that Dovidl’s children and grandchildren have no memory of those who preceded them. Similarly, we come to Israel, rush off the plane, pick up our luggage and make our way to Jerusalem. And what do we think about?

We’re busy asking ourselves and each other, “Where is a good place to eat?” “Any new restaurants around?” “Did you try out that new hotel?” “Is it worth it the price?”

But do any of us ask, “Where is the Beis HaMikdash?” Does anyone really miss the Beis HaMikdash? Does anyone search for it? Does anyone even think about it? Does anyone even want to remember?

The girl who stood before me begged with tears, “Please, Rebbetzin, give me a berachah that I should never forget to cry for the Beis HaMikdash. I’m so afraid I will forget and become oblivious to its loss. I do not want to be like Dovidl’s children.”

I could only look at her. She had taken my breath away. I couldn’t recall anyone ever asking me for such a berachah – to be able to remain constantly aware of the Beis HaMikdash and, yes, to weep for it.

For thousands of years we prayed, wept and hoped for Yerushalayim. To see Yerushalayim again, to behold the rebuilt Beis HaMikdash, has always been the center of all our prayers. At our weddings, in the midst of our joy, we break a glass to remember our Temple that is no more. When painting our homes we would leave a small spot empty to remind us that no home can be complete if the Beis HaMikdash has not been rebuilt.

We have a thousand and one reminders in our prayers, in our traditions, in our observance, that constantly recall to us Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. And yet, now that we have Jerusalem again we have somehow forgotten our dream – our Beis HaMikdash that we prayed for and continue to pray for.

Sadly, our prayers for the Temple have become just words recited by rote. And here comes a young woman new to our faith and she seeks a blessing not for shidduch, not for parnassah, not for good health, nor for personal happiness – but for the ability to shed tears and yearn to see the Beis HaMikdash rebuilt. Should that not give us all pause? Should that not make us think and consider?

Should we not ask again and again and still again, “Where is the Beis HaMikdash?” I miss it so. I’m in Jerusalem but the shinning crown of the Holy City is absent and my joy cannot be complete until I see its glory restored.

St. Peter and the Reform Movement

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

The three articles we ran at the end of last week regarding the notion that the Reform movement now ordains “rabbis” who are not Jewish resulted in a huge explosion of responses, and that’s always a good thing, even if in the process yours truly came across as a big meanie, a racist, an extremist, a divider, a hater, and someone who contradicts the very spirit of the month of Elul.

There is a midrash (homily) about Shimon Kefa, who was none other than Peter the Rock, the first Christian pope. Jewish sources have been doing battle over the veracity of this story since at least the time of Rashi and the Machzor Vitri (earliest cited Jewish prayer book), in the 11th and 12th centuries. There are at least four versions of the same midrash, which vary on specifics, but relate essentially the same story:

The Christians were persecuting Jews and encouraging Jews to join their fold, which they did in droves. The sages were distraught about this, until one of them, a sage by the name of Shimon Kefa (rock in Aramaic) volunteered to go as a Trojan horse into the Christians’ camp and change Christianity forever so it would not look Jewish.

He received the sages’ blessings and went to carry out his mission. In a major Christian enclave, he told the gathered that he is the messenger of Jesus. To prove this, he performed some of the miracles Jesus was famous for: healed a leper and resurrected a dead person. When they were convinced he was truly a messenger of their departed master, he started instructing them—and here each version differs on what he told them to do, except that they all emphasize not attacking Jews any more.

Other than persuading the Christians to leave the Jews alone, in several versions Shimon Kefa—Peter—tells them to move the day of rest to Sunday, to eat all the animals and all the blood they wish, and not to circumcise their sons. And so, in short order, the gap between Christianity and Judaism became so wide, no one in his right mind would suggest they’re the same religion.

What was is it about Christianity that so disturbed the sages? After all, Christians to this day embrace many of the Torah commandments and rely on Biblical verses for practically everything they do and say. Why couldn’t the sages say, well, it’s true that Christianity is not exactly Orthodox Judaism (a 19th century term which I doubt they were familiar with), but at least it keeps them away from paganism.

Because it doesn’t. By placing man at the center of the story, even when it is a god who becomes man through congress with a mortal woman, Christianity is paganism 2.0, promoting the same self-centered ideas but using Biblical verses in the process.

I’m well aware of the scant few sources in the Talmud which defend Christianity as an essentially monotheistic religion which employs pagan concepts. I’m not a scholar and this is not a scholarly article, so I’ll cut to the chase: according to Jewish law, a Jew is not allowed inside a Christian church where Christian icons and symbols are on display (but we are permitted to enter a mosque and even pray—Jewish prayers—there).

Our modern poskim, most notably Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, have already prohibited Religious Jews to set foot in a Reform temple. Rabbi Feinstein rules that Conservative and Reform temples are the same as places of idol worship with respect to both of the following rabbinical notions (source: Institute for Dayanim):

1. Since praying together with a Conservative or Reform congregation is forbidden, the need to avoid the appearance of worshipping in a prohibited manner is applicable to these temples.

2. Similarly, the prohibition on being in the vicinity of a place designated for people with heretical beliefs applies equally to idol worshippers and to Jews who do not accept the fundamentals of Orthodox Judaism. (Orthodox Judaism itself has a broad spectrum of beliefs. For a working definition of Orthodox Judaism we can use the thirteen fundamentals of the Rambam [Maimonides]. All streams of Orthodoxy accept the thirteen fundamentals of Judaism of the Rambam as correct. Anyone deviating from those principles is considered a kofer-heretic).

(There are some who make a distinction between the Conservative and the Reform, in that while the Reform completely removed themselves from rabbinical halacha, the Conservative still consider halacha as their legally binding law, they just interpret it differently. Not my place to decide that one.)

Before we continue, I want you to understand that these supposedly harsh and firm demands, as presented by Maimonides, are broad enough to include a huge variety of Jewish congregations, all the way from ultra-Haredim in the neighborhood of Geula in Jerusalem, to the most left-wing shuls in hip America. They all manage to find themselves inside this tent, and quite comfortably and happily at that (OK, some not as happily as others, can’t win everything).

There is only one fundamental, unwavering rule at the core of all these varied congregations: we all connect to God through the commandments, and we all do this in line with rabbinical interpretation.

This is the core difference between the monotheistic and the pagan: in our tradition, we do the will of God, in theirs, it’s the god who does their will.

Their god provides the beauty of a great singer, the loving kindness of a great teacher, the spiritual wonder of the seeker, the helping hand to the needy, the diversity of all of mankind, the generosity of the human spirit – there are so many incredible things their god does for them. It’s truly lovely, and as a recent comment suggested on one of our articles: “Yori Yanover, listen to the singing one more time. Only THIS time, listen with your 2,000 year old ‘wandering Jew’ neshamah, and NOT with your intellect.”

And that is the essence of paganism. A Jewish relationship with God is anchored in a covenant, a legal document the essence of which we recite twice a day, every day, in the Sh’ma. We accept the yoke of mitzvot and in return we have a relationship with God, we get to be alive and to have national and personal continuity.

It’s wonderful when this relationship results in a lot of beauty and personal satisfaction – why the heck not. But it is there also when He in His wisdom kills us en masse, kills our babies, ravages our fields, inflicts cancer and boils on us – we still hold on to the covenant, and we work hard to love Him, especially when He in His wisdom makes it so difficult.

We don’t do this out of an emotional or spiritual yearning – those are wonderful aspects of our faith, but not the essence of our religion. We do this out of a commitment to the mitzvot as a clear expression of the Will of God. we don’t need to imagine what would God want of us – He came down on Mount Sinai and told us specifically, and empowered our sages to teach us the meaning of His words.

And so, we insist that Jews be made aware that only our places of prayer and study are sanctioned by our Jewish tradition, and that non-Orthodox places are not – despite all the sometimes incredible beauty emanating from them.

An ugly etrog is still an etrog, but a beautiful lemon is never an etrog.

Iranians Citizens Increasingly Support Peace with Israel

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Contrary to mainstream media reports, momentum for peaceful relations with the State of Israel is building among the Iranian people.

“I think there are many Iranians who live for the day that Iran has diplomatic relations with Israel,” says Mahyar Shams Ahmadi, who was born in Tehran 28 years ago but now lives in Toronto. “In my view, if you just look at relations between Iran and Israel, it is clear that it is in fact the ruling regime in Iran that is preventing diplomatic relations.”

Ahmadi is inspired by the high-tech advances and Western-style democracy that Israeli society has achieved.  “Israel is already serving as a model for Iran, and other countries, on how to treat women and minorities,” he says. “Much like Canada, Israel does not oppress its citizens and allows them to think freely without fear of being persecuted no matter what your religion or beliefs are.”

Ahmadi criticizes Iranian leadership’s view of Israel as “little Satan” to the US’ “big Satan.” He says he is embarrassed and saddened that the present Iranian government remains opposed to Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations. “Even with a new president, it is evident that Iran’s government hasn’t changed at all, and it is no surprise that Iran still continues to fail to live up to their international obligations,” he said.

Other Iranians are a bit more optimistic. “I think that the prospect of Israeli-Iranian relations will look good within the near future, either through the collapse of the regime, or by reform of Iranian politics,” says Pedram, an Iranian presently living in Stockholm, Sweden. “The Iranian and Jewish people have thousands of years of cultural and historical connection with each other and it cannot be broken just because we have an oppressive regime at the moment. I can with strong confidence say that the overwhelming majority of Iranians, both inside and outside the country, strongly support not only peace with Israel but also better relations in general.”

Recently, Iranian film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf visited Israel as a guest of honor at the Jerusalem Film Festival. He received an award for his efforts to promote freedom and democracy in Iran and hosted a film screening of his recent film The Gardener, which was the first Iranian film to be filmed in Israel in decades. A number of his other films were also highlighted at the Jerusalem Film Festival. Crowds of Israelis honored him with standing ovations. Makhmalbaf was the first high-profile Iranian artist and former revolutionary to visit the Jewish state since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

By defying the BDS Movement and pro-regime forces inside the Islamic Republic, who forced the Iranian Cinema Association to boycott Makhmalbaf’s films, the director risks a prison sentence if he returns to Iran.

Still, Makhmalbaf says he is  “proud to have paved the way for Iranian cinema in Israel. Boycotting and writing statements does not solve anything. It only leads to war. We have to get to know each other through art, literature, and cinema, so we can become friends and end the hostility. That’s the reason I filmed my latest movie ‘The Gardener’ in Israel.” And, he adds, he hopes that someday soon, Israeli filmmakers will be able to shoot films in Iran.

Remarkably, more than 80 Iranian scholars, opposition group members, and human rights activists openly declared their support of his decision to come to Israel.

Visit United with Israel.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/united-with-israel/iranians-citizens-increasingly-support-peace-with-israel/2013/07/31/

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